SIMMENTAL cattle are renowned for having a docile temperament and dual-purpose characteristics, and as the breed has modernised over the past decade, the Simmental has become the go-to female for suckler cow replacements which boast milking qualities and maternal skills like no other, as well as producing progeny with some of the highest growth rates. 
While the breed itself has developed over the years and too, the British Simmental Cattle Society, chief executive and pedigree breeder, Neil Shand, from Cairnorrie, Methlick, near Ellon, believes the Simmental ticks all the boxes for commercial producers, especially as UK farmers face a huge amount of uncertainty. 
“The Simmental is so adaptable – it has the potential to be crossed to any breed,” began Neil, who took on the role as chief executive eight years ago and now runs a small pedigree herd which he established in 2005, having started out with Simmental crosses in the early 2000s. 
“The breed has modernised over the years and that’s down to the breeders. Cattle are cleaner and killing out percentages and daily liveweight gains would be up there with the best of the other continental breeds. Commercial boys will always be attracted to the breed for its milking qualities and when times are tough, and the price of feed is so expensive, you can’t go past the Simmental as it is more than capable of rearing a calf on milk.”
Neil, who studied forestry at college and worked in the paper industry for 20 years, continued: “Although the Simmental is a multi-purpose animal, it’s predominantly a maternal breed and when you travel around any part of the country, it’s evident to see that two out of three cows have Simmental blood in them. 
“There has been real stability in the society for the past eight years and our finances are very good. Membership has also increased by 9.3% in the past eight years and stands at 1126 members from across the UK. The breed has a strong future ahead of it because we’re adaptable and have several strings to our bow – maternal and terminal. And, when more pressure comes from cattle emissions, growth performance stands us in good stead. 
“Moving forward, we’re ahead of all other breeds in terms of health schemes and the breed has a reputation of being well policed. We have 112 bulls entered for Stirling this month and our membership is slowly increasing. The main thing to point out is that 90- 95% of bulls are bought by commercial buyers so without them we wouldn’t be where we are,” he added.
Mr Shand went on to tell us about the society’s methods and processes in promoting the breed’s qualities, and what he believes would make a brighter future for agriculture.

The Scottish Farmer:

A selection of replacement heifers which will come into Neil’s Cairnorrie herd Ref:EC0410183776

Estimated breeding value (EBV)
There is still a lot of nonsense talked about EBVs. Commercial producers have also been encouraged by educational bodies to use easy calving bulls which is the completely wrong direction when retaining heifers to breed with. 
EBVs are there to be made use of and although they are becoming more accurate, they’re just a small part of the jigsaw to buying a bull. The health status and type of bull is the first question most commercials boys ask.
There’s a risk that some people will end up with serious calving issues if they keep buying easy calving bulls and retain females. All studies the society has done suggest the small pelvic area in a female is directly related to bulls with very easy calving figures. If you buy easy calving bulls, they’ll just throw out heifers with a narrow pelvis, which will be harder to calve. 
We’ve changed the driver on carcase trait EBVS to encourage cattle to move in the direction of more fat cover. 
There has been a lot of talk of what size cows need to be, but you can calve a Simmental cross heifer at two years of age if that’s what the system needs. More and more breeders have become more ruthless in the cattle they keep. At society sales in recent years, we’ve not had a ‘tail end’ of bulls. The quality has improved at society sales and that’s down to breeders.

DNA testing
Since 2012 and like other breed societies, we have been DNA sire verifying all bulls before society sales and for the past 18 months, at the society’s expense, we have been DNA sire verifying all females which are forward for society sales. We reckoned that if there was a percentage of bulls wrong, then there would be a percentage of females wrong and since doing so, we’ve found 2-3% of females’ parentage incorrect.
In the near future, pedigree certificates from the British Simmental Society will only be issued when the full parentage of the calf is verified. A breed society’s main responsibility is the management and accuracy of the herd book, but I think the cost of DNA testing is holding back societies now. Our breed policy is if the DNA of a bull or female is not correct before sale, they can’t be sold. It is the easiest and safest option. 
We have three Simmental bulls not forward for sale at Stirling Bull Sales in October because their DNA could not be verified.

Monitoring birth dates
The society is continually doing random inspections and I’m pleased to say that those inspections have thrown up nothing of significance, but we will continue to do them.
This year, two other breed societies asked us how to approach/manage birth inspections so hopefully this will encourage others to do the same.

Voluntary semen testing
To further promote the fertility of our breed, any breeder who sells a bull at a society sale which has been pre-semen tested receives £50 towards the cost of the test from the society. Over 80% of our bulls sold at society sales are semen tested which undoubtedly gives commercial or pedigree buyers more confidence and security when buying a bull.
We sold 122 Simmental bulls at Stirling in February and there has only been one fertility claim post-sale which equates to 0.8%. 
In the future, insurance companies will not insure bulls which aren’t semen tested. The time is going to come for that. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Quality breeding shines through in this young bull’s head at Cairnorrie    Ref:EC0410183778

Female classifications
We followed the Beef Shorthorn Cattle Society down the route of classifying cows and we now offer voluntary female classifications. It’s used to allow herds of all sizes to get an independence evaluation on their breeding females and is a tool which can be used to further promote the breed, ensuring all bulls are bred out of consistently correct cows. 

The Scottish Farmer:

Using easy calving bulls continuously may lead to a narrow pelvic area but this cow demonstrates a healthy size and scale Ref:EC0410183774

VIA carcase analysis
VIA (video image analysis) of carcases will be a driver for all breeds moving forward, with producers paid a premium in the number of premium cuts produced in any one carcase. As a result, length and width will perhaps be more relevant in the future rather than big backsides. 

Promotional plans 
The society is going to continue to use mainstream agricultural press for advertising, but we are going to replace advertising in smaller publications using our own social media page. 
Advertising on our Facebook and Twitter pages will include the likes of 55-second video clips related to breeders and the breed itself. The future and current generation is moving forward so we need to make use of the likes of Facebook and I reckon all breed societies will have to streamline and look at ways of working with each other. 

The Scottish Farmer:

This cow and calf outfit at Cairnorrie more than demonstrates the docility of the Simmental breed 
Changes which should be made to agriculture
I believe all store cattle should be sold over a weigh scale. As a breed society, we cover all the UK and some countries sell store cattle without being weighed on sale day. This fails to highlight the growth potential of some breeds compared to others. 
All finishers sell in kilos so why aren’t animals weighed at the beginning in kilos so that producers can underscore the performance of animals in terms of growth rates? It would create a level playing field for all breeds. 
Another point I must make is that the suckler industry needs to be pushed in a positive way instead of all these so-called industry experts stating that cows don’t pay. 
In the Republic of Ireland, they have launched a Save our Sucklers campaign. Why isn’t our country doing more? Our industry is crying out for positive promotion. 
Buying a bull in October is a clever time for a commercial producer to 
buy so that it’s settled in at home before being used in the spring time. But, I do think there are too many spring calving herds in the country and that has been driven by educational ‘experts’. 
One of the consequences of this is that there are too many prime cattle available in April, May and June. The suckler industry would benefit from more autumn calving herds. We’re trying to get more members to calve in the autumn, so that we can have the right age of bull for sale in the spring.

The docile characteristic of the Simmental is also demonstrated below as Neil is pictured with one of his bulls  

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